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Nevada Day history: Future pope visits city, dam

On Oct. 30, 1936, four score years ago, Boulder City was host to a special visitor, a man who would be pope.

The number of dignitaries visiting Hoover Dam greatly increased following President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dedication of the engineering marvel in 1935. By 1936, when the waters of the Colorado rose to form Lake Mead, hydroelectric power was generated, and Boulder City was now home to the world’s tallest dam and largest hydroelectric generating station.

This wonder of man’s genius and labor piqued the interest of all — from tourists to men of science. It also captured the interest of men of faith, including Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli, Vatican secretary of state.

Cardinal Pacelli was secretary of state to Pope Pius XI from 1930 to 1939. In 1936, he visited the United States, arriving in New York on Oct. 8 on the Conte di Savoia, receiving an official state salute. On this trip, which was billed as a holiday, a vacation for Cardinal Pacelli, he visited many American cities; this tour would come to include Boulder City.

His coast to coast seven-day air tour of the U.S. brought him west, to San Francisco, where he blessed the Oakland Bay Bridge, and to Los Angeles. And in a stop not part of his original itinerary, he flew from Burbank to Boulder City Airport to see, and to tour “the Dam at Boulder.”

Staying overnight in Boulder City, Cardinal Pacelli was a guest at the Boulder Dam Hotel on Arizona Street; his name is on the list of the historic hotel’s guest dignitaries, which one may request when visiting.

Cardinal Pacelli’s visit brought him not only to our nation’s teeming cities, but also to Southern Nevada, to the desert Southwest, to “lonely lands made fruitful” as the inscription reads at Hoover Dam.

At the conclusion of his American “grand tour” one week later on Nov. 6, at Pier 59 in New York, he offered this written statement:

”I am leaving America with sorrow, and yet with gratitude in my heart to all with whom I have come in contact, and with the prayer that Almighty God may continue to bless this great nation, that its citizens may be happy and prosperous, and that the influence of the United States may always be exerted for the promotion of peace among peoples.”

The cardinal’s words clearly convey genuine admiration for, and a blessing upon, our nation and all its citizens. This blessing even extended to a 4-year-old boy standing with his family outside Holy Child parish in Philadelphia awaiting the cardinal’s arrival to their parish. That boy, upon whom the cardinal would place his hand in a gesture of blessing, was my father.

I cannot help but feel that Cardinal Pacelli’s brief presence in Nevada likewise bestowed a special blessing upon our state, now celebrating 152 years of statehood, and upon Boulder City, my family’s home for the past 43 years.

And the blessing of Nevada’s Vatican visitor and osservatore Romano would soon become a papal blessing. For on March 2, 1939, less than 2½ years after his visit to Boulder City and his tour of Hoover Dam, Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli was elected in papal conclave as the 262nd pope and successor of Saint Peter, taking the name Pius XII.

On a Nevada Day 80 years ago, our state was blessed with the visit of a future pope. May God continue to shower us with his mercy, this Nevada Day, and always.

Msgr. Gordon is Pastor of Saint Anne Parish in Las Vegas, His family resides in Boulder City.

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